A Call to Unity and Global Partnership
Paul A. Cedar
Greetings, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. How delighted my wife, Jeannie, and I are to be participating with you in this historic celebration of our Messiah -- Jesus Christ. How great is our Lord and greatly to be praised!
As we gather together from many nations of the world - from the north, south, east and west -- we do so in the name of Jesus Christ - our Savior, our Lord - and our Leader!
As you know, one of the highest priorities of our Leader, Jesus Christ, is the unity of His Body - the Church. Perhaps there is no other passage in the entire Bible that reveals our Lord's intense desire for spiritual unity more deeply than the words of His High Priestly Prayer that is recorded in the Gospel of John, chapter 17. Jesus prayed, "I pray . . . that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you sent me (John 17:20-21 NIV)."
The topic that has been assigned to me is "A Call to Unity and Global Partnership." This subject is not optional for any of us who profess to follow Jesus Christ as His loving and obedient disciples. It is imperative - for all of us!
Unity is the heart-cry of our Lord Jesus. He is calling us to true unity and global partnership. It is not my idea or yours. It is not the original idea of the AD 2000 and Beyond Movement or of WEF or the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization or the newly formed Global Round Table.
It is our Lord's idea - and it is His deep desire.
As you will remember, Jesus continued His High Priestly Prayer by asking His Father for "all of them to be one even as the Father and the Son are one (John 17:21-22)." Then follows the crescendo of His prayer for unity. Jesus prayed, "May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me (John 17:23)."
What a remarkable statement - and what a vitally important insight for those of us who are committed to follow Jesus Christ as Lord and to be used by Him in fulfilling His mission of world evangelization. The words of Jesus seem to imply - even clearly state - that the unity among His followers will be used by God to communicate to the world that the Father has sent the Son. In other words, unity in the family of God brings credibility and believability to the proclamation of the Gospel.
There are people in the church who seem to believe that the prayer of Jesus for complete unity was either symbolic or theoretical in nature. Quite to the contrary, this was and continues to be the fervent and practical prayer of our Lord Jesus for His Body - the Church. In fact, the request of Jesus for the complete unity of His followers began to be fulfilled during the events surrounding the birth of His Church.
In the four Gospel accounts of the ministry of Jesus, the words "unity" or "oneness" or "together" are not used to describe the relationship of His disciples. Instead, the disciples of Jesus were often involved in disagreement, discord and disunity. The term "every man for himself" would be a more accurate description of the disciples during the three years they spent with Jesus.
For example, they argued frequently concerning which of them would be the greatest in the Kingdom of God. Each disciple aspired to be the greatest, and, as a result, they were involved constantly in a kind of self-promoting competition.
However, early in the book of the Acts of the Apostles, things began to change dramatically. A new vocabulary was introduced to describe the relationship of the Christian believers. Let me share a few examples from the first chapters of Acts.
When Jesus ascended to Heaven, the disciples obeyed His instructions by returning to Jerusalem. Dr. Luke reported, "They all joined together constantly in prayer. . . (Acts 1:14 NIV)." Those are remarkable words to describe the disciples who had been fractured, self-centered and competitive - "they joined together constantly."
Then Luke continued, "When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place (Acts 2:1)." Again, that is an extraordinary description. They were all together in one place.
Then it happened - just as Jesus had predicted. "All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit . . . (Acts 2:4)." Without a doubt, the coming of the Holy Spirit to fill them was key in bringing them to true spiritual unity. It was unity that was spiritual in nature. As He promised, Jesus Christ was no longer living with them in physical form. He was now living in them in the person of the Holy Spirit (John 14 -16).
The first accounts of the early Christians are communicated in the descriptive vocabulary of spiritual unity. "All the believers were together and had everything in common (Acts 2:44)." "Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts (Acts 2:46)." They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts (Acts 46).
In summary, they were TOGETHER!
During their time with Jesus, the disciples never seemed to be on the same page. They were certainly not "spiritually together." But now the promise given by Jesus was beginning to be fulfilled. The gift of the Holy Spirit had been given to them. They were filled with the Holy Spirit - and one of the most immediate, practical results was that they were brought together spiritually and supernaturally by the Holy Spirit. The High Priestly Prayer of Jesus was being fulfilled!
The words "together" and "one" are used repeatedly in the Book of Acts and throughout the New Testament. It is helpful to note that these words "together" and "one" are used in the narrative account of the first major crisis experienced by the early church as recorded in Acts, chapters three and four.
As you will remember, Peter and John were going up to the temple one afternoon at "the time of prayer." Every day the followers of Jesus met together in the temple courts (Acts 2:46). This day was no exception.
As they were entering the temple, they were interrupted by a man who was crippled from birth. He asked them for money. Peter said to him, "Silver or gold I do not have, but what I have, I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk (Acts 3:6)."
And he did!
Instantly the man's feet and ankles became strong. He jumped to his feet and began to walk. And soon he was walking and jumping and praising God (Acts 3:7-8)!
When all the people saw him walking and praising God, they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him (Acts 3:10). As the people came running to Peter and John, Peter took the initiative to explain that he and John had not healed the man.
He said, "By faith in the name of Jesus, this man whom you see and know was made strong. It is Jesus' name and the faith that comes through Him that has given this complete healing to him as you can all see (Acts 3:16)." Peter then went on to proclaim the Gospel to the people.
When the priests, the captain of the temple guard and the Sadducees discovered what was happening, they were greatly disturbed that Peter was proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead. They put Peter and John in jail until the next day (Acts 3: 42-3).
The next day, they were brought before the rulers, the elders and the teachers of the law including the High Priest, Caiaphas. They threatened Peter and John and commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. Then they let them go (Acts 4:18-21).
As Peter and John departed from the interrogation, they made a remarkable decision. They could have run for their lives or gone into hiding. Or it would have been very understandable if they had returned to Galilee to their homes or at least had gone home to spend some days fishing and recuperating while things "cooled down" in Jerusalem. That would have been a very natural reaction for both of them. In fact was the kind of thing they had done the night Jesus was betrayed and arrested. Both of them had fled and deserted Jesus.
However, they were no longer living merely in the natural realm. They had been filled with the Holy Spirit. As a result, they did the "Jesus-thing" instead of the "human-thing." "On their release, Peter and John went back to their own people and reported all that the chief priests and elders had said to them. (Acts 4:23)."
They were no longer "lone-rangers." They belonged to Christ and to each other. They were a part of a community of the followers of Jesus - members of the very Body of Christ. Jesus was their spiritual head - and they were members of His Body.
They were together.
The spiritual unity for which our Lord Jesus had prayed for His followers was becoming a reality. And as a result, they were "enjoying the favor of all the people." And, just as our Lord prayed, people were believing that "the Father had sent the Son." And He was adding "to their number daily those who were being saved (Acts 2:47)."
When the members of the Christian Community in Jerusalem heard the report from Peter and John regarding what had happened to them, they responded immediately - together. "They raised their voices together in prayer to God (Acts 4:24)."
They prayed together for the Lord to enable them - His servants - "to speak His word with great boldness (Acts 4:29)." The events surrounding this remarkable prayer meeting reveal at least four practical insights regarding authentic spiritual unity within the Body of Christ.
Devoted followers of Jesus Christ need to continually "come together." It is the devil's tactic to attempt to divide us. It is the Lord's desire for His people to come together in authentic spiritual unity.
The early Christians understood and practiced this principle of unity. "Every day they met together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts (Acts 2:46)."
And, when they faced a crisis, they no longer separated and ran for cover. Instead, they now "came together" to share their concerns and needs.
As they did so, they grew in their understanding of what the Church is all about. In this regard, the Apostle Paul later wrote to the Church at Ephesus, ". . . we will in all things grow up into Him, who is the Head, that is, Christ. From Him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work (Ephesians 4:15-16)."
A second principle of authentic spiritual unity is for God's people to pray together when the gather together. As Christians gather, we have the privilege of communing with God corporately as we commune or fellowship with one another.
As you will remember, Jesus encouraged this kind of corporate prayer. He taught us "Again, I tell you that if two or you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in Heaven. For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them (Matthew 18:19-20)."
As that little gathering of Christians gathered together to pray with Peter and John, they were following the teaching of the Lord Jesus. "They raised their voice together to God with one accord (KJV)." The phrase translated into English "with one accord" is the Greek word homothumadon that literally means "unanimous."
In other words, they prayed to God with "one voice!"
As they prayed together, ". . . the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly (Acts 4:31)." The Lord answered their prayers powerfully for the advancement of His Kingdom.
As the result, the Biblical account reports that "All the believers were one in heart . . . (Acts 4:32)." What a wonderful description of authentic spiritual unity. Only God is able to provide that kind of unity. It cannot be organized or legislated or mandated. It is a quality of spiritual unity that is provided only by the Holy Spirit.
As the narrative continues in Acts four, the passage states that those Christians following that memorable prayer meeting were also one in mind (Acts 4: 32). The word translated from the Greek as "mind" can also be translated as "soul." It is the Greek word psuche which comes from the root word meaning "to breathe" or "to breathe together."
What a great and powerful description of a deep expression of spiritual unity. They shared life together at the deepest kind of spiritual level. This passage continues to describe that kind of unity by stating that "they shared everything they had (vs. 32)" and "much grace was upon them all (vs. 33)" and " there were no needy person among them (vs. 34)." What a way to live!
In Acts 2:44, these early Christians were described in the following way, "All the believers were together and they had everything in common. Literally, they shared a "common life." They lived in deep communion with Christ and with each other.
The answer is "EVERYTHING!" The foundation of strategic Christian global partnership is authentic Christian unity. There is no substitute. We need partnerships that are predicated on the ministry of the Holy Spirit and based upon the authentic unity that can only be wrought by the Holy Spirit.
At the same time, we need to understand that coming together under the Lordship of Christ and by the power of the Holy Spirit is not only a New Testament concept. Our Lord has encouraged and even required such spiritual partnerships from the beginning of human history beginning with Adam and Eve becoming "one" in the sight of God.
Of course, God Himself is the personification of the deepest expression of spiritual unity - God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. To recite the words of a great old hymn, "God in three persons, blessed Trinity."
The Psalmist declared, "How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity (Psalm 133:1)." He then concluded, "For there the Lord bestows His blessing, even life forevermore (Psalm 133:3)."
It is fascinating to realize that our Lord created us not to live independently of Him or one another - but to live in full dependence upon Him and with interdependence on one another. Paul wrote, "Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good (I Corinthians 12:7)." He continues by saying, "The eye cannot say to the hand, `I don't need you!' And the head cannot say to the feet, `I don't need you' (I Corinthians 12:21)."
Paul then concludes that marvelous passage by declaring, ". . . there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it (I Corinthians 12:25-26)."
Our Lord has created us to need Him - and to need each other as we serve Him. This is especially true of fulfilling His mission. It is foolhardy, if not arrogant, to believe that one of us can fulfill the Great Commission of Jesus by ourselves -- or one local church -- or one denomination -- or one parachurch ministry.
The Apostle Paul sounded the clarion call for authentic spiritual unity when he wrote, "Be completely humble and gentle; be patient bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace (Ephesians 4:2-3)."
When Jesus rules our hearts and minds and when we are filled with the Holy Spirit, then and only then can be experience true spiritual unity. Paul assumes that truth as he urges us to make every effort to keep or maintain that unity of the Spirit.
It is a very serious matter for us to disturb or destroy the unity of the Spirit. The writer of the Proverbs declares that among the seven things that God hates is "a man who stirs up dissension among brothers (Proverbs 6:19)."
Paul wrote about the same matter when he stated, "Warn a divisive person once, and then warn him a second time. After that, have nothing to do with him. You may be sure that such a man is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned (Titus 3:10-11).
I believe that God is calling His Church into strategic partnerships in order to fulfill His mission in the world. The AD 2000 & Beyond Movement has been a wonderful expression of how God can use strategic partnerships to advance His agenda and His Kingdom. As we bid this great movement farewell, we need not despair. Although the AD 2000 Movement is officially coming to a close, the spirit of unity is not departing from Christ's Church - nor is His clear call to strategic alliances and partnerships.
Our Lord is calling His people and His Church to come together and to pray together and to become involved in mission together in most remarkable ways. As we enter a new millennium of ministry, we need to heed the call of our Leader, Jesus Christ, to give a high priority to authentic, practical spiritual unity -- in our families, in His Church and in our calling to the ministry of world evangelization.
We have the privilege of living in a day when our Lord is calling His people to come together in unity and global partnership in ways that may be unprecedented in the history of the Church. We have acknowledged that the AD 2000 and Beyond Movement is a wonderful expression of that kind of unity and global partnership.
In addition, we can thank God that a number of global, regional, national and local partnerships are coming together these days under the Lordship of Jesus Christ. For example, in recent years our Lord has used InterDev to serve as a catalyst and as an effective facilitator in helping to form scores of strategic partnerships around the world that are focusing the mission of World Evangelization. Also, the World Evangelical Fellowship is a wonderful coalition of Evangelical church and denominational leaders from all over the world that has been used of God for well over a century to advance Christ's mission on many fronts.
Then there is the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization that was begun some twenty-five years ago which has focused on "The whole Church taking the whole Gospel to the whole world. In the past two years, these global partnerships along with other international and regional partnerships have formed the Global Round Table which is focusing upon "connecting Christ's People to Fulfill His Great Commission in the 21st Century." All of these coalitions are wonderful examples of the great power of unity and global partnerships.
At this time, we are going to hear updates from each of these strategic partnerships. God willing, you will be both encouraged and blessed as you listen to some front line reports of how our Lord is calling His Church to be involved in unity and global partnerships as we seek to fulfill the Great Commission of our Lord Jesus Christ.
As we do, let us commit to pray fervently that the prayer of our Lord Jesus for complete unity may be fulfilled in all of our lives and ministries so the world my truly believe that the Father has sent the Son.
Our Lord is calling us to be involved in unity and global partnerships. Let us follow our Leader -- together -- with obedience and joyful expectation. And, as we do, let us come together with the understanding and conviction that "There is one body and one Spirit - just as you were called to one hope when you were called - one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all (Ephesians 4:4-6)."
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